BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With less than week to go before conservatives of all stripes gather for the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Washington, D.C.’s Gaylord Resort and National Convention Center, it can be said without equivocation that the run up to the gathering has been just about as dysfunctional as the Republican Party itself.
While rebranding, rebooting, repositioning and the coalescing of the various competing factions within the Party might have been the main order of pre-CPAC business, instead tweets, email, texts, blogs, and radio rants have focused on who has or hasn’t been invited to speak, and which groups have been excluded.
A parade of the usual suspects (Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich), and wannabees (Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan) will grace the stage. NRA President David Keene and its Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre are also scheduled speakers.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT No jail time for bankers
On Wednesday, March 6, US Attorney General Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, admitting that the Department of Justice believes that Wall Street financial titans are too big to jail. According to the American Banker,
Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the size and interconnectedness of some institutions has "made it difficult for us to prosecute" in some cases, in response to a question from Grassley, the panel's lead Republican, about the HSBC deal.
"I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge — it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy," said Holder, who cautioned he was speaking generally and not about the HSBC case specifically. "I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large." (Italics added by BuzzFlash at Truthout.)
Addressing bank size is something lawmakers in Congress would "need to consider," he added.
In essence, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States conceded that he cannot uphold laws governing financial fraud and manipulation in regards to those who run large financial entities. His argument is that holding individuals criminally accountable for imploding the economy would endanger the economy. Say what? Isn't Holder just giving them further license to plunder away?
Holder's response to the Senate Judiciary Committee came about in a discussion of the hefty fine applied to HSBC for what would appear to be multiple criminal violations of the law, but not accompanied by any charges against individuals.
BuzzFlash at Truthout has repeatedaly chastised the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its ongoing disregard for enforcing the law when it comes to Wall Street. Regarding HSBC, one of our commentaries was "When Big Banks Like HSBC Are Not Prosecuted Criminally, It May Be Killing Us":
Matti Taibbi has a devastating article in Rolling Stone on how the soon-to-be-departed head of the Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal division, Lanny Breuer, admits that the DOJ won't prosecute banks too big to fail, such as HSBC and UBS – among many others. Why?
Because as Taibbi quotes Breuer: "Our goal here is not to destroy a major financial institution."
ROBERT C. KOEHLER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Philip Zimbardo’s TED Talk on Abu Ghraib and “The Psychology of Evil” is up to 2,374,000 hits. Apparently people are hungry to know about the deep psychology of American foreign policy.
And perhaps they’re hungry to look, again . . . again . . . at the Abu Ghraib torture photos that first surfaced in 2004. Cruelty and evil inspire a twisted awe; they pull us into the black hole of our own heart, where we see ourselves in hideous distortion.
“Nothing is easier,” said Dostoevsky (quoted by Zimbardo in his presentation), “than denouncing an evildoer. Nothing is more difficult than understanding him.”
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The most basic instinct of humans is self-preservation and keeping free from personal harm. So when you have a nation where police arrest more people for marijuana possession than for violent crime, it would appear that protecting citizens from physical harm takes second place to enforcing archaic laws demonizing a weed that induces euphoria and an urge to eat.
After all, alcohol is socially sanctioned as a way of relaxing with friends or alone. No one gets busted for sipping from a can of beer on the front porch or drinking champagne at a swanky charity fundraiser.
Yet despite the action of 18 states to legalize the medical use of marijuana -- and in Colorado and Washington State to decriminalize it for recreational use – arrests at the local and federal level are proceeding full steam ahead, to the detriment of public safety – given a limited amount of law enforcement resources.
The Huffington Post recently highlighted an FBI report that revealed, "in 2011, marijuana possession arrests totaled 663,032 — more than arrests for all violent crimes combined. Possession arrests have nearly doubled since 1980, according to" the FBI.
Americans interested in not getting mugged, beaten, hit by their husbands, etc., should think about the implications of a law enforcement culture that ups its arrest records – and wastes police and court time, not to mention prison costs – by making easy marijuana pinches. This policy is from the White House down, given that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has spent a good part of the Obama years cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries. President Obama and the DOJ are currently sending mixed signals, with Obama playing the good cop while the DOJ plays the bad cop, leaking that it is pursuing how to strategically challenge the Colorado and Washington State recreational use laws.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT Stiffing the Working Class
A recent New York Times (NYT) business article confirms a commentary that BuzzFlash wrote, "A Tale of Two Economies: Skyrocketing Stock Market for the Rich, Devaluation of Work for the Rest," in September of 2012
The March 4 NYT headline lays it out bluntly: "Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs." But it's really worse. It's not just that the nation is at a relative plateau of joblessness. Even those who are employed are finding that their wages are not growing relative to the explosion in corporate profits.
The grim figures in terms of the working class speak for themselves in the NYT story:
As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. In recent years, the shift has accelerated during the slow recovery that followed the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008 and 2009, said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.
Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, he said, but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.
As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in "A Tale of Two Economies" last autumn:
However, what is more important than the unemployment rate is the overall degradation of work and wage stagnation and decline under the current corporate and business climate that devalues labor. Since around 1990, the working class has been paid less on an inflation-adjusted basis while accumulating more debt. So even if one has a job in the labor force, if you are among the lower 99% the odds are that you have been feeling economic stress and anxiety for some time….
WILL DURST FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
LOLLY BECK-PANCER FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The Farm Bill may be responsible for what’s on our plate, but it is not acting responsibly. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, nicknamed the Farm Bill, is the primary agricultural policy tool of the U.S. government; it regulates international food trade, food stamps, and allocates funding to support farmers. It is responsible for the nutrition of 45 million low-income Americans- half of them children- enrolled in its food stamp program.
Americans on food stamps stretch their assistance dollars as far as possible. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Farm Bill to subsidize healthful fruits and vegetables to make them the financially accessible as well as favorable choice. However, in the bill, nutrition is overshadowed by business interests. Since 2008 farmers have received annual subsidies of approximately $17.3 billion to support commodities such as wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, upland cotton, long-grain rice, medium-grain rice, soybeans, peanuts, and other oilseeds, and cheddar cheese, butter, and nonfat dry milk. In 2008, $4.2 billion went to subsidizing corn alone - the one vegetable on that list, which, according to Michael Pollan, doesn’t even make it to our table on a cob. Among its primary uses are producing rapidly fattening cows and ethanol, both multi-billion dollar industries.
ANN DAVIDOW FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It has become increasingly clear that what Washington and policy makers everywhere need are problem solvers - - not explainers and rhetoricians, but people who can frame solutions, without the poisonous partisan overlay that accompanies much of what passes for frank discussion most of the time.
These days, whether it’s the fiscal cliff or presidential appointments, the Senate is mired in meaningless debate meant to show members at their intellectual best, but which actually show how incredibly foolish most of them are. And if one is inclined to watch a lot of the goings-on, one may become less - rather than more - receptive to their arguments. In the effort to end debate in the Senate regarding nominee Chuck Hagel, all the Republican complaints were reiterated - although, in an abundance of caution, the party made a point of commending his military service In the end, the Senate voted to end debate by a healthy margin, clearing the way for a final confirmation vote.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Yes the gun lobby has enabled the arming of child soldiers -- even younger than 10-years-old --and the deadly raging of local militia wars around the world. No, the National Rifle Association (NRA) is not selling small arms to militias; it is not recruiting child soldiers and giving them guns to fight for "rebel" forces around that commit atrocities; it does not directly sell firearms and weapons to rebel nations that commit massacres of its own people.
But the National Riffle Association has for years held up the United States endorsement of the international Arms Trade Treaty, which would provide a legal framework for limiting the profiteering of weapons that create killing fields, particularly in poorer nations.
Amnesty International is creating a campaign to stop the NRA from blocking the Arms Trade Treaty this time around:
Children -- no matter where they live -- must be kept safe from gun violence. The United Nations is preparing to finalize a treaty that would help to do just that by helping to stem the flow of weapons to human rights abusers. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is standing in the way of these efforts by waging a campaign of misinformation and lies force the U.S. government to oppose the treaty.
Around the globe, over a billion children live in countries impacted by armed conflict that is fueled by small arms and conventional weapons. These children are at grave risk of being abducted and trafficked, used as soldiers and sex slaves, forced from their homes, attacked at school.
“The Arms Trade Treaty represents a call to conscience to the world – and especially to the United States government –to protect civilians and help develop a system that would prevent weapons from flowing into a situation where we know lives are at risk,” said Amnesty International's Michelle Ringuette. "The U.S. public must not allow its own leaders to ignore the horrific impact of weapons traded into the hands of despots and tyrants. Would we hand a gun to a rapist, murderer or child abuser? Of course we wouldn’t. But that is what we allow with arms trading with devastating results.”
Amazingly, the Obama White House has not yet taken a position on the next round of treaty negotiations that begin on March 18th. If you counter that the treaty is not yet written so why should the president take a position at this time, then know this: "a round of treaty talks last July ended when the United States stepped away from the negotiating process," according to Amnesty International. The political factor behind the US walking away was, at a political level, the NRA.
(Photo: Amnesty International)
BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Strategies used by the Church to cover up its worldwide sexual abuse scandal included: the Vatican's refusal to cooperate with civil authorities; officially sanctioned priest shifting; the destruction of evidence; punishing whistle-blowers and rewarding enablers; and, blaming the victims.
Last week, the eyes of the world were on Pope Benedict XVI – who apparently expects to be known as Pope Emeritus – as he left the Vatican by helicopter to spend the final hours of what many would characterize as his scandal-dogged papacy, at the papal summer retreat. According to The New York Times, "Onlookers in St. Peter's Square cheered, church bells rang and Romans stood on rooftops to wave flags as he flew by."
To the thousands of survivors of the Roman Catholic Church's worldwide sexual abuse scandals, however, there was little to cheer about.
A Philadelphia Grand Jury report put the long-lived scandal in unambiguous terms: By sexual abuse, "We mean rape. Boys who were raped orally, boys who were raped anally, girls who were raped vaginally. But even those victims whose physical abuse did not include actual rape – those who were subjected to fondling, to masturbation, to pornography – suffered psychological abuse that scarred their lives and sapped the faith in which they had been raised."
Aftershocks from the decades-long sexual abuse scandal continue to reverberate, even as cardinals gather to choose the next pope. As the Times reported, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's senior Roman Catholic cleric, "said he would not participate in the conclave, after having been accused of 'inappropriate acts' with several priests, charges that he denies." Other cardinals, including some from the United States have also come under fire.